Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February 23, 2018


Dean of Student Experience, Allen Machielson 


Director of Residential Life, Melanie Lawson 

Garver Meeting (1)

Students gathered in Garver Hall to discuss the new housing arrangement.

First-Year Housing Changes for 2018-2019 Spark Controversy 

Evan Harris

As Manchester approaches the halfway mark of the second semester, the Office of Residential Life released plans for changes that will occur on campus for the fall.

Residential life sent out an email in early February describing plans to make a majority of Garver Hall and all of East Hall first-year residence halls, and many students, current first-years, sophomores and juniors, will have to make the move to Schwalm, Oakwood or Helman Halls. This plan has received significant scrutiny, with some students threatening to transfer schools or move off campus. Last week, town hall-style meetings were held in Garver and East Halls, and students expressed their opinions on this issue.

Director of Residential Life, Melanie Lawson, discussed the plans in further detail, as well as why Garver and East will become first-year residence halls. “East and Garver were chosen because of their location and size,” she said. “A single class of first years could not fit into just one of our residence halls, so we needed to use two.”

Lawson also shared her thoughts on how this change could potentially affect the retention rate of upper-class students for this coming fall. “I know we will have unhappy upper-class students with this decision, but the residence halls are not the only thing that motivates a student to stay or leave Manchester," she said. "Hopefully, they will focus on all the other things that they love about Manchester that keeps them here—their classes, faculty, classmates and other factors.”

Dean of Student Experience, Allen Machielson, spotlights when plans for this change began and why Garver and East were the top choices. “Initial planning for this started in August to discuss the first-year experience, and we looked into potential first-year residence halls,” he said. “We never considered Oakwood or Helman, but the ground floor and first floor of Garver (female’s side), and all of East was the best decision so we could keep all first-years closer to their classes and access other places easier.”

Aside from the major residence hall changes, Machielson shed light on other changes to enhance the first-year experience for this fall’s incoming class. “We are changing orientation days by doing pre-registration for classes in the spring," he said. “The first six weeks are the most critical for first-year students and within that time period, many will determine if they will stay a particular university. We plan to do specialized programing to help students during those first 6 weeks of transition to Manchester. We also want to work intensely with the Success Center so first-years could not just have social success, but academic success as well.”

Even though Residential Life has confidence that this plan will work out and will increase community and retention, students still scrutinize  it. “I do not support this decision because I think first-years should be mixed with upperclassmen who actually know the ropes,” said first-year and Garver resident Alexis Underhill. “I have met a lot of friends in Garver that are not other first-years, and I think they’ll miss out that having that exposure."

Senior East Hall Resident Mary Powell said: “I fear that there will be many students who will be displaced, and retention will actually decrease because the first-years will have no upper-class students to look up in these dorms but their Resident Assistants. There are also many traditions that will die off in the affected dorms because of this transition.”

Though many students have negative feelings toward these changes, many others can see the possible good. “I think in the long run, this will help in building community among classmates, regardless of their major,” said Courtney Douglas, a sophomore Schwalm Hall resident assistant. “What I would have done differently is housed out the dorms instead of an immediate change. I would have also allowed juniors and seniors that have lived in East and Garver since their first year to squat their rooms and move the first years and sophomores to other dorms and allow juniors who meet certain criteria to have the privilege to move off campus.”

Although students debate the merits of this upcoming transition, Machielson believes this plan has a bright future. “The primary question we are trying to answer is, ‘What can we do to make improvements on campus?’” he said. “Hopefully we can make great improvements to the first-year experience.

Lawson said: "Making those improvements is the first stepping stone. I think this is a good change that will benefit our students. There will be unhappy folks, but overall, we will see a lot of good things come from this change and the other changes to the first-year experience at Manchester.

"We will have to shift some of our perceptions on traditions within the residence halls," she continued, "because those change every year even without this change. The hall’s community is built by the people within, not the bricks and mortar.”